All quiet at Mthatha airport

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iol news pic Mthatha airport security


A police officer leads a sniffer dog to inspect a section of the airport in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, a day before the arrival of the body of late former president Nelson Mandela. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

Mthatha - Quiet returned to Mthatha airport late on Friday afternoon following rehearsals for the arrival of the body of former president Nelson Mandela.

His daughter Makaziwe and a family friend, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, left the airport just before 6pm after spending hours watching the rehearsals.

Mandela's body will be flown from Waterkloof Air Force Base, in Pretoria, to Mthatha airport on Saturday. From there, it is expected to be taken through the streets of Mthatha and on to Qunu, where Mandela spent much of his childhood.

Mandela died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, last Thursday, at the age of 95. An official memorial was held at FNB Stadium, in Johannesburg, on Tuesday, and his body lay in state at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday.

Earlier on Friday, Mthatha airport was a hive of activity.

Police kept watch at all major intersections near the airport, and security forces, some of them on motorbike, were stationed in and around the airport.

Soldiers armed with automatic rifles ran up and down, escorting those arriving at the airport to cars.

Helicopters and military planes flew overhead.

Local residents in yellow African National Congress T-shirts sang outside the main gate.

A military tent could be seen on the airport grounds.

Transport Minister Dipuo Peters was at the airport and appealed to guests using private jets to land in East London.

“We want to minimise congestion and delays. Those driving, make sure you get to the park-and-rides on time and use the shuttles,” she said.

Mthatha airport, which is the closest to Qunu, has been handed over to the military, which will decide which planes can land there.

Peters appealed to guests to respect the rules and procedures put in place by the SA National Defence Force.

“We ask for co-operation and respect. If you're told you can't be here, let's co-operate.”

She appealed to locals to be patient on the roads while dignitaries were being transported to Qunu.

“There will be times where you will be stopped for long periods. You will be stopped and held for a long time. Be patient and allow marshalls to direct you where to go,” she said.

She urged women to wear comfortable shoes on the day of the funeral as the terrain was rocky and could damage high-heeled shoes.


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